BEST OF SXSW
We share our favorite acts from the festival
It’s all over but the napping. Here, our music team shares some of their favorite acts from South by Southwest 2017. Catch up on the whole SXSW Conference and Festivals at austin360.com/sxsw and 512tech.com.
DEBORAH SENGUPTA STITH
Solange: In an hourlong set that felt like a lucid dream, Solange drew us into her world. She created dramatic stage pictures through intricate choreography with the interpretive gestures of modern dance, the shoulder shimmies and hip-shakes of the club and the warrior stances of traditional African dance. She inhabited the music completely, and she brought the emotional meaning of the songs to life with such force that some of the women who crowded the front of the stage wept openly when she played her Grammy-winning ode to heartbreak, “Cranes in the Sky.”
Lizzo: The Minneapolis rapper was all over the fest, but the only set that worked with my schedule was Friday on the Radio Day Stage. I was running late and stuck in traffic. So I hopped out of my ride-share, ran three blocks and made it in time to hear “Coconut Oil,” her fierce ode to self-love. Out of breath, exhausted and emotionally raw, I suddenly was vanquishing the vestiges of my teenage insecurities while jumping up and down singing “It’s a party over here now” with tears streaming down my face. I posted a video clip from the set on Twitter and a woman I don’t know retweeted
it with three words: “(Expletive) life-changing.” (Expletive) life-changing indeed.
Emmanuel Jal: The former child soldier refuses to define his life by the horrors he has seen. Representing Sudan on the ContraBanned showcase that featured musicians from countries targeted by President Donald Trump’s travel ban, he brought a message of unity and of love that triumphs over fear. “Fear is real in the mind,” he said. “Think about peace and kindness in your mind, we can bring that here.” Jamila Woods and Noname: The Chicago renaissance is real. In the last few years, despite a cycle of violence that seems ceaseless — or perhaps because of it — the city’s urban music scene has exploded with soaring heart that fortifies the soul of America. Both of these women, with their jazzy, neo-soul grooves, unapologetic activism and “Black Girl Magic,” are part of that movement. Third Root: “The building’s on fire but the band played on.” This Central Texas hip-hop crew brings a ruckus for justice and the revolution will not be silenced. After a week spent sampling sounds from across the country and around the world, ATX hip-hop brought it home hard on Saturday night.
Big Star’s Third: Original Big Star drummer Jody Stephens, R.E.M.’s Mike Mills, ringleader Chris Stamey and a band of North Carolina rising stars were at the core of this tribute to the legendary Memphis band, timed to coincide with their concert film that premiered at SXSW. But the game-changer was Austin’s Tosca Strings, who brought out the hauntingly beautiful melodies at the heart of the material.
Luck Reunion: A first visit to Willie Nelson’s big bash west of town was well worth the drive out and back, with highlights including another knock-’em-dead set by rootscountry powerhouse Margo Price and an intimate, unamplified pop-up performance by fiddler Sara Watkins and Austin guitarist David Garza. Ray Benson’s 66th Birthday Bash: We left Luck before the grand Willie finale only because we’d had the opportunity to catch his stellar surprise appearance at the end of Benson’s annual party at GSD&M to benefit the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. Other highlights included the Avett Brothers (who stayed onstage to jam with Willie) and short but sweet mini-sets from Sunny Sweeney and Shannon McNally with Charlie Sexton. Kasey Chambers: The Australian singer-songwriter played to a packed house at Cooper’s as part of the Americana Music Association showcase, mixing emotional ballads and bluesy rockers pulled from her early years to a new album that topped the charts in her home country. Hanson video at Krieg Complex: Many other SXSWers got to see the allgrown-up former kid pop stars at various high-profile shows downtown, but our Statesman video team got the special treat of hearing them dig up an old a cappella tune for a trip down memory lane filmed out at the softball fields where they had a fateful encounter in 1994 that helped change their career.
Diet Cig: Is there anyone who looks happier doing their job than Alex Luciano of Diet Cig? Is there anyone at SXSW who high kicked higher? This duo puts on a heck of a show, at times hilarious and at times absolutely thrash-worthy, with indie-rock songs that pack a punch right in the feelings. I caught Diet Cig at Waterloo Records for their eighth show of the week after Luciano had started to lose her voice. I do not feel cheated in any way.
Cardi B: I had previously known this New York rapper only from her fine work in the internet GIF world, but she was a fierce, poison-tipped emcee wearing a pile of tulle in the heat. I got my life. Tinashe: I did not discover Tinashe, per se, as I loved her records before catching her on Wednesday night. I did not know, however, that she was such a showstopper live, breaking out jaw-dropping choreography and vocals strong enough to bust out the a cappella. I’m a superfan now.
Living Hour: While I only caught the tail end of the Canadian dream-pop band’s set, they earn the distinction of being the only band playing before the band I came to see that I wish I had seen in their entirety. Frontwoman Sam Sarty has a knee-weakening voice and a trombone, and she’s not afraid to use either.
And not discoveries, but my fave sets … PWR BTTM: What is there to say about PWR BTTM that hasn’t been said? They owned this SXSW, standing from each stage they played and raining down rock ’n’ roll lightning, stray sequins and pithy wit. I saw them 2.5 times, such is their power.
Neko Case: For healing purposes, Case could not be beat. Her solo gig at the Twin Peaks pop-up cut through all the SXSW pretension and got right into the heartbreaking, sometimes eerie, soul-nourishing music. As she reminded us all, “just nerd as hard as you can.” How can you not love a woman in an owl costume?
!!! (Chk Chk Chk): Wearing a matching pale blue blazer and suit pants altered into short, short shorts, !!! frontman Nic Offer jump kicked and pranced his way around the stage with strut and swagger of Mick Jagger. Add to the display Offer’s playful back and forth with vocalist Meah Pace, and you could have had a blast just watching the band. Fortunately, they sounded even better than they looked — with house beats, fuzzy funk bass and pecks of disco guitar. It was sexy and silly but also seriously good dance music. An epic night of early ’00s post-hardcore: Wednesday night, it was possible to see a mind-blowing doubleheader of posthardcore icons: El Paso emo band At the Drive-In and Austin’s wild …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead. At the DriveIn played a surprise show at the Mohawk, where the packed crowd absolutely lost their minds with joyous moshing and screaming along, while Trail of Dead played a short but volatile set (classic SXSW sound check issues) for a rowdy Rainey Street crowd.
Jain: Parisian solo import Jain brought her infectious dancehall-tinged electropop and charmed the crowd. Throughout her set she politely requested audience participation in a thick French accent. The crowd respectfully complied — not too much of an ask, as her music was pure pop gold.
Tunde Olaniran: Sleigh Bells tourmate Tunde Olaniran only played one set at SXSW 2017, but it was a doozy — a socially conscious, banging mashup of hip-hop, punk, funk, trap, world and R&B with choreographed dancing and an audience on-stage twerk-off at its close. Olaniran said he hoped his show would be a place where everyone could “exchange a little joy.” He succeeded. Anna Meredith: Experimental composer Meredith played her strange brew of maximalist progressive pop, mixing honking tuba, swelling cello, off-tempo dueling drums, cacophonous clarinet, math rock guitar, 8-bit video game synths and more into a complex but danceable collage.
La Dame Blanche: One my favorite musical discoveries this year was Yaite Ramos Rodriguez, aka La Dame Blanche. Rodriguez strutted on stage wearing a white cape and smoking a cigar. As if her magical blend of hiphop with a bit of cumbia, dancehall and reggae wasn’t enough, Rodriguez also takes
command of the stage when she whips out a flute to round out her sexy, soulful sound. LAMC show at Collide
House: I’ll forever remember the magical feeling created at the intimate living room space on Sixth Street by three back-to-back artists presented by the Latin Alternative Music Conference. You just can’t beat an up-close-and personal performance by uber talented artists who pour everything into a performance. I feel lucky to have been invited to see Venezuelan rockers La Vida Boheme, Tokyo Ska Paradise and Puerto Rico’s Ileana Cabra there.
Residente: An incredible high-energy performance by Rene Pérez Joglar, former rapper for Calle 13, electrified the All Latino Resist Concert on Thursday. Pérez Joglar, who has earned the most Grammys (25) of any Latin artist, premiered his documentary “Residente” at SXSW and also debuted his new band at Auditorium Shores. It’s the start of a new chapter for him, and his fans can’t wait for what lies ahead.
Spoon: The first of a threenight stand at the former Emo’s downtown saw the Austin legends delivering crisp, colorful takes on wellworn material, and some from the just-released “Hot Thoughts” album.
A Giant Dog: Bleeding from the mouth because of accidently bashing it with the microphone mid-set, lead singer Sabrina Ellis gutted out a top-notch performance for the Austin punks and previewed material from a tobe-announced next album.
Snoop Dogg: Light on surprises or controversy from his rhetorical dustup with President Trump, the man delivered 40 minutes of unqualified hits for a crowd that served as captive audience for all things under the Snoop branding umbrella. New Pornographers: Give the Canadians a quick set without their premier voice (Neko Case) or songwriting alter ego (Dan Bejar) and they’ll still deliver. Material from the forthcoming “Whiteout Conditions” glimmered with Carl Newman’s pure op craftsmanship.
Russell E.L. Butler at
Moogfest Showcase: Fastpaced, intense techno that puts a new spin on the term “braindance.” He fits in with Austin’s burgeoning electronic scene, even though he’s from the Bay Area. His Sade shirt was easily the best thing worn on stage, too.
Show Me the Body: Not many stuck around after Mastodon, but Show Me the Body’s mutant banjo noise rock managed to upstage the headliners. They’ve gotten more confrontational, bringing punk danger to slick showcases. Security wasn’t happy when kids broke through the VIP area to mosh. Who needs VIP areas anyway?
GosT: Synthwave in sound, metal in look. It’s loud and throbbing all the same. Headbanging, moshing and dancing do, in fact, go together.
Solange performs at YouTube at Coppertank during SXSW on Wednesday. Her performance brought some fans to tears.
Captain Kirk Douglas, guitarist for the Roots, finishes an electrifying version of “Johnny B. Goode” as a tribute to Chuck Berry, the rock ‘n’ roll pioneer who died Saturday.
Austin band Sweet Spirit performs at Do512’s the Big One day party at Barracuda on Saturday.
Ripley Ty and her husband, Joe Ty, of the Aberdeen, Wash., band Juliet Tango, play on a loading dock at Twin Liquors on Seventh Street on Saturday.
Garth Brooks, right, performs at Vic Mathias Shores during South by Southwest on Saturday.
The Riverboat Gamblers play at the Jackalope during SXSW on Saturday.
Lizzo performs at the Independence and Lagunitas Bug Out party at the Scoot Inn during South by Southwest on March 14.
Wu-Tang Clan performs at ACL Live during SXSW on March 14.